Science now shares a profound truth that babies are sentient, conscious beings who have the potential to shake down the very foundations of societal ills engrained in our economic, political, and spiritual structures. This truth remains largely unknown to humanity, and yet it carries the greatest potential for all mankind. In order to cultivate this truth and allow our children to mature into adults who can create stability, growth and connection within our communities, we must first eradicate birth trauma by dispelling the current technocratic birthing practices. Bringing awareness to the population at large of the true nature of children and how they function is key to making this goal a reality. The premise of birth trauma lies in betrayal, and to truly comprehend it, we must first come into relationship with our own experience of betrayal. So, with this essay, and for future audiences, I intend to explain my own embodied experiences when I have encountered treachery from those I trusted most. I will connect these similar embodied experiences to my son’s sense of betrayal he experienced during his gestation period, birth, and breastfeeding experience; all experiences tainted for him by my ignorance of his conscious, sentient nature. Knowledge of what is causing betrayal in our most vulnerable population is the first step to shifting the world.
Ray Castellino documents the essential steps for setting up a birth passage free of trauma and betrayal in his article, “Being with Newborns.” If any rupture in this sequence occurs, then an infant experiences betrayal. This type of overwhelm has definitive and resolute outcomes in the hardwiring of a child’s nervous system that impacts their behavior, neurodevelopment, emotional states, and belief systems. In sum, every child needs two parents who are loving and nurturing of each other, are well prepared physically, emotionally and spiritually for the welcoming of new life, and are capable of developing a felt sense and awareness of the new soul’s presence (Castellino 1996). With this magical elixir of mutual support, consciousness, connection, and joyous welcome, a child will flourish and grow in health and love. The horrifying reality, though, is that 98% of children born into this world experience some form of trauma (Castellino 1996). This tragedy is evident in the national and global crisis facing our children’s health and overall state of being. As Wendy Anne McCarty states in her 2008 article “Investing in Human Potential in the Beginning of Life: Key to Maximizing Human Potential”:
[A] much more silent crisis is brewing all across America relating to our infants and children. We see an alarming rise in prematurity, low-birth weights, surgical births, autism, ADHD, childhood aggression and depression, asthma, overweight and obese children, attachment disorders, learning disabilities, and use of psychiatric drugs to manage children’s conditions, as well as a rise in the number children in foster care, adolescent homicide, child abuse and teen pregnancy (Glenn, M. & McCarty, WA., 118).
From reading Castellino’s article, I recounted the stages of both my pregnancies, only to realize that most of the crucial steps he outlines were missed. My children were deeply betrayed, and I see the same outcomes in my children as I see in myself, patterns of behavior afflicted with anxiety, anger, depression and physical suffering that ultimately stem from betrayal I incurred during my entry and upbringing in the world. When I turned inward and began to come into relationship with this knowledge, a sense of horror swelled from the center of my stomach and tightened like a frozen ball of ice. In moments of true despair, grief, abandonment, and betrayal, when emotions overwhelm me, existential questions always arise. Why must we have pain and suffering? Why has God forsaken me? Why must the world be this way? Why is coming into existence so excruciatingly painful? Who made the world this way? Why do we turn a blind eye to the atrocities facing mankind and our Planet? How can we stop apathy and despair?
I decided to jog my memory for times when I was most overwhelmed, and I looked to what caused these episodes initially. In my twenties, I will never forget the grief and betrayal I experienced when the father of my firstborn left me. I remember the last encounter we had when he broke the news that he was leaving. I didn’t feel much in that moment, it was the moments after ground zero that were devastating. Metaphorically, I can compare it to a meteor striking the Atlantic Ocean—an immediate contraction of the liquid body absorbing the impact occurs, releasing forces of equal and opposite direction to encapsulate and counter-oppose the impact. Once a point of neutrality arises, the energy disperses outward sending shock waves of equal momentum throughout the field of time and space around the site of impact. The first few moments after my partner declared his new life, confusion whirled in my head, thoughts bounced round and round, leaving my body cold and numb, as if all the energy in my body went into absorbing the news. I turned to go in my house. My legs were moving, but they felt far away, like my head was disconnected and miles apart. It felt like nobody was home, my body was vacant. I crawled onto my bed and curled up into a ball. My stomach churned and I squelched the urge to vomit. I laid there listless, complete apathy settled in my bones.
The impact of the separation lasted for weeks. Moments would come over me and I would sob so hard, my body would violently shake. A wave of heat would swell from my pelvis, up my spine, and spread from my neck to my face and ears. The tears of sadness made me feel so forlorn, so alone, and forgotten. I doubted my self-worth, my existence. Who could I possibly be? After the initial shock wore off, I remember the obsessive thoughts that took over my life. Thoughts of him consumed me and I would imagine over and over how I could contact him, what I would say. I would beg and plead inside my head with make believe conversations I would have with him. These little fantasies were reruns on auto pilot, endlessly churning. My appetite disappeared and in its place my stomach twisted in knots. I suffered from reflux and “fire” tongue. I felt anxious like I couldn’t sit in my own skin. I had to move and keep busy. I could go all day and night without food, just water, and even that was not appealing. After a couple of weeks of this hypervigilant anxiety, I then started to slow down. I had very little energy. I would lie on my couch on the weekends watching movies all day. I no longer wanted to move. I didn’t even want to think. I just felt like a blob that would fade into the shadows. I had no purpose, no drive, no passion. My body felt heavy and dull. I was forsaken. I had been betrayed.
Science is now revealing to us that these embodied emotions originate from intricate chemical and electric reactions taking place in the neuroendocrine pathways. In other words, trauma has specific repercussions that manifest in our behaviors. Ray Castellino documents shock affect characteristics in the physiology, behavior and energetic fluid fields of neonates (Castellino, pg 7-8). I like to explain development as a continuum, everything from the starting foundation affects the hierarchal levels. The embryo begins in a fluid field with the building blocks of blood, neurons, and energy. When overwhelm or trauma enters this fluid field, it creates roadblocks, or little pockets of energy that get absorbed into the tissue field. These energy pockets get cut off from the system and begin to act like black holes sucking in solids and energy, building their own inertial systems. This form of disconnection causes neuronal pathways to be less connected. The whole point of development is to grow a brain that is connected from the bottom up and from the top down.
The human brain is the only organ that is not fully developed at birth. It begins developing at day 40 after conception. The neocortex is the seed for the genesis of neurons, which will explode throughout gestation and for the next ten years of life. The primary factor governing this growth in the fetal brain is feedback from the mother by means of nutrition and stimulation at the physical, emotional, energetic and spiritual levels. Only the brain’s basic structures are present at birth (Melillo 2015). Paul MacLean coined the term, the Triune Brain, to explain the three functional hemispheres of the human brain: the primitive (reptilian), limbic (mammalian), and new cortex (neomammalian). The base of the brain encases the brainstem, or reptilian brain, which controls all of our most basic functions and is the seat of our subconscious mind. The middle brain, or limbic system governs our emotions and is the reactive part of us that initiates “fight or flight”. The cerebral cortex controls all of our higher-order conscious activity, and is what makes us regulated, conscious, and compassionate humans (MacLean 2009).
The brain builds from stimulation. Positive stimulation in a safe, supported, and loving environment allows for growth; whereas, unsafe, disconnected, non-supportive environments result in a body that is in survival mode, or “fight or flight,” battering away at overwhelm and trauma. Ray Castellino’s checklist for being with newborns in a co-creative field was largely missed with both of my pregnancies, and the evidence remains in both of my children. I would not have been able to comprehend Castellino’s shock affect characteristics if I had not witnessed for myself Dr. Melillo’s Brain Balance program. I conducted the evaluation with my daughter shortly after having my second child in a traumatic hospital setting. I saw from him patterns that I saw in my first child. I intuitively knew something was going on that was beyond my awareness. I had to find out what was causing his stress and erratic behaviors. He couldn’t breastfeed and he slept for hours and hours. So I decided to test my daughter. The assessment tests from the Brain Balance program revealed that she had deficiencies in all seven areas of brain growth:
- Motor: muscle tone, coordination, and strength
- Sensory: correlating to the five senses of touch, smell, taste, vision, and hearing
- Emotional: ability to control and display emotions at appropriate times
- Behavior: acting appropriately and social interactions
- Academic: abilities required for learning and retention
- Immune: tendencies toward allergies and chronic illnesses
- Autonomic: self-regulation of body functions
After taking these tests, Castellino’s remarks on trauma ring true for me, “Stressful and traumatic events during prenatal life and birth imprint both the baby’s body and the baby’s psyche. Traumatic imprints overlay the true self and profoundly impact the emerging person and how they will be later on in life. Body structure, movement patterns, sense of self and lifelong strategies manifest from these early traumatic imprints” (Castellino 1996).
When I think of my son when he was conceived, I felt his presence and I welcomed him with an open, loving heart. I wanted him more than anything, and I had held a place for him for almost two years prior to his conception. When I told my husband that I was expecting, he panicked and lashed out in fear. He did not want the burden of a child on his shoulders again, the lifelong commitment, the financial consequences, the physical and emotional toil that children always bring. He quickly became furious, and I withdrew into myself—building a wall to ward off the world of betrayal that existed for me, and always had from the earliest days in my own childhood experience. I lashed out in anger directed at my husband. We fought for the first five weeks of my son’s development in utero. Our marriage almost ended. In the deepest moments of despair, my stomach would be coiled in knots, my appetite gone, confusion at the helm—sobs would rock my body as I lay wide awake at night with my husband in a different room. When I recall those moments and take into consideration another sentient being was experiencing every moment right there along with me, my heart breaks. I did not know to even talk to my son and assure him that this was not his fault. I wish I would have been aware of him and all his capabilities.
With these regrets, I will refrain in this paper from sharing his entire birth story and the countless ways he was repeatedly betrayed by the doctor, by the hospital system, by our culture, by his caretakers. The layers of betrayal run deep in a very condensed period of time. He was ripped from me during a cesarean operation. The doctor was losing him, because he was stuck in a transverse position and the contractions of my uterus were clamping down on his head that was wedged in my bicornuate shaped womb. He was resuscitated immediately after removal and raced off to the NICU. When he and I were united a day later, he could not breastfeed, and he screamed out in pain all through the night. He and I were both so frustrated. Now, when I consider just one moment of deep betrayal I experienced in my life and I compare it to my son, I wonder what in the world he was experiencing in his first few months after arriving into this world. It took weeks and months for me to recover from a broken heart, how my son survived makes me marvel at the resiliency of human nature. He fought through a tongue-tie surgery where I left him alone with a doctor and nurse to burn his skin attachment off with a laser. He underwent surgery at 9 months to reconstruct his penis from the hypospadias defect with which he was born. In hindsight, remembering his behaviors and his crying patterns, I am certain that babies experience betrayal in the same way all other humans experience it. Babies are not a different species.
What I look to now is the knowledge that these ruptures can be repaired, and most importantly that brains can be rewired. Resiliency can prevail through the phenomenon of neuroplasticity. Nerves form synapses/connections through repeated stimulation. The phrase “use it or lose it” rings true in this incidence. If you know how to stimulate the areas of the brain that are underdeveloped, then they can grow again in a secure and supported environment (Melillo 2015). To use my metaphor mentioned earlier of black holes, these underdeveloped areas in the brain are places where inertial fulcrums are present, organizing and isolating pockets of trauma in an energetic sense. Axons and dendrites of neurons are missing in these areas of “black matter”. Somatotropic therapy coupled with proper sensory stimulation is just one path for how neuroplasticity and integration can occur. Direct manipulation through fascia work, massage therapy, and osteopathic practices can help eliminate this stagnation of energy. The field of pre and perinatal psychology integrates a diverse set of therapies from polarity, EMDR, breathwork, birth regression, psychoanalysis, somatic trauma resolution, interpersonal biology, bodywork, and attachment therapy (White & Rhodes, 2013). Science also now shows us that epigenetics can be changed through diet, movement and stimulation.
In conclusion, I must share a fascinating story about Albert Einstein’s autopsy on his brain after his death. He donated his body for study in the name of science. Dr. Melillo outlined this story in his book Disconnected Kids. Einstein is considered one of the greatest minds of all time, but as a child he was far from brilliant. In fact, scientists now agree that Einstein had a significant learning disorder that today would be diagnosed as ADHD and/or dyslexia. He did not speak until he was around age seven and did poorly academically all the way through college. When he failed to get into graduate school at the age of twenty, he became a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office. He never gave up his cerebral pursuits, though. Just six years later he published the first draft of his scientific Theory of Relativity, which won him the Nobel Prize ten years later.
So, what turned the mind of a child who couldn’t pass the grade into a veritable Einstein? The answer is neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and grow through stimulation, a term that was created by Dr. Marion Diamond. When Einstein’s brain was examined in 1955 by Dr. Marion Diamond, it was roughly the same size as most brains and had the average number of brain cells. However, they discovered that his brain possessed an enormous number of connections, or synapses, between brain cells, and more astrocytes, which are cells that nourish the synaptic junctions (Melillo 2015). At one point, we would have credited this to Einstein having good genes, yet we can now see it was the result of the unique way he used his brain (Diamond 1964).
Einstein passionately played the violin and piano. He once explained, when he was stuck on a mathematical problem, he would sit down and play music and envision his problem until the mathematical equation came to him. Put another way, listening to music (the sense of hearing) stimulated playing an instrument (physical activity), which is a right brain activity, and concentration on the equation (mental activity), which is a left-brain activity. Doing so on a repetitive basis not only strengthened the electrical connections between the left and right hemispheres, but new connections grew. Combined, they increased his brain power. As early as 1966, Diamond and her team demonstrated that putting young rats in a stimulating environment rich with challenge and new experiences increased glial cells. They discovered the same results when they placed elderly mice in an enriched environment: increased astrocyte numbers and complexity of synaptic connection had a direct correlation with better cognitive performance (Diamond 1964).
This story demonstrates how healing takes place in the present time, not in the past. History always repeats itself until transmutation occurs and something new is created. This new creation then becomes the next point in history. Now is the time to create a new story for our children, a story that dispels betrayal and replaces it with connection and love.
Castellino, Ray. Being with newborns. Santa Barbara: Castellino Training. 1996.
Diamond, Marian C.; Krech, David; Rosenzweig, Mark R. (1964). “The effects of an enriched environment on the histology of the rat cerebral cortex”. The Journal of Comparative Neurology. 123: 111–119.
Glenn, M. & McCarty, WA. “Investing in human potential from the beginning of life: key to maximizing human capital.” Journal of the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health23(2): 117-136, 2008.
MacLean, Paul D. The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions. New York: Plenum Press, 1990. Print.
Melillo, Robert. Disconnected Kids: The Groundbreaking Brain Balance Program for Children With Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Neurological Disorders. New York: Penguin, 2009.
White, K. & Rhodes, J. (2013) Summary of trends and influences in pre- and perinatal psychology. Position paper, Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health.